is for Pray
We are more than half way through our 26 Days to Practice Peace and I’m here to say that the word “pray” gives me the willies. It was difficult to type it as many times as I did. It's not a word that rolls off my tongue; I avoid saying it actually.
BUT before you click away I hope you will stay with me through this one because I’ve earned your trust over the past few posts.
When I was little I said my prayers before bed; I imagined God up in heaven listening to me smiling through his long white beard and wearing his soft white robe. In fact God and Santa had very similar faces in my mind.
At the years passed my connection to religion faded but my commitment to being a better person expanded. I’ve committed myself to kindness, compassion, honesty, love, forgiveness and the most important one for me is my commitment to refraining from being judgmental and critical of others. I haven’t quite mastered not judging or criticizing myself yet, but I’ll get there.
Back to why “pray” give me the willies. When I am in a church I feel so self-conscious and nervous—so many rules, procedures, traditions and protocols. You would think a rule follower like me would love that but I don’t. The perfectionist in me is always worried I’ll screw it up some way and offend the old lady next to me or worse—piss off God in some way.
I also get twitchy when people say they’ll pray for me. I don’t know why I’m so stubborn; my insides say, “Please don’t. I don’t need it.” I just feel weird having people pray for me. It makes me feel like they have passed judgement and have decided that I’m so screwed up and Godless that I had better get some help fast before the Earth cracks open and takes me down to Hell.
Clearly I have some issues. I can see it all unfolding here as I write,
But I do pray—in a way—my way. I talk to “God” I guess you could call it. It’s hard for a pragmatic spiritualist like me to say with conviction that "I’m talking to God" because I would prefer some sort of proof or memo “from the desk of God” to know for sure who I’m talking to, but I do believe there is a universal life force that vibrates through everything so I guess that’s who/what I talk to—but God for short works for me.
When I pray I complain, I cry, I wish, I yell, but I also send love off to anywhere and to anyone I think needs it. At other times I pray for strength, I pray for money, I pray for good health, I pray for my daughter to have a great day, I pray for anyone blowing out birthday candles that their future is happy and healthy. I pray my big dog lives a lot longer, I pray my little dog stops waking me at 4:30 A.M. to go out, but then I suck it up, roll out of bed and realize that I now have to thank God that she does wake me up so I have fewer pee spots on my floor.
I guess I pray a lot. But I won’t tell you that I’m praying for you. I will say I’m thinking of you. I won’t say you’re in my prayers. I‘ll say you’re in my thoughts. Wherever my fear of prayer came from I’m not sure, but it’s okay; I’m certain God, the Universe, Spirit, Whatever, understands and loves me anyway.
So for each of you just know that I’m thinking of you when I read your comments, and I wish you Love, Light, Clarity, Peace, and Joy, and now you know exactly what I mean.
is for Open
Be open. Be open to trying new things.
That sentence makes me chuckle inside because I don’t think I would consider myself particularly adventurous and open to new things anymore, so my suggesting to you that you should be open to new experiences seems a bit ridiculous. But I know it’s correct; I tell it to you because I need to tell it to me.
For me if my regular lunch table is already full and I have to sit somewhere else with new people I can get a little twitchy and off my game. I guess I like routine maybe a little too much. I don’t go out. I don’t dress up anymore. I don’t travel much. So maybe I’m in a rut.
I have a million excuses for why I don’t do any of these things anymore, but no more excuses. For one day I can be open.
It has been a long time since I’ve opened myself up to others because being closed off feels safer and more comfortable. It’s spring so I should be opening the doors and windows inside of me and outside of me and let the fresh new breezes blow through. And if you’re listening Breeze, feel free to take all the dog hair and dust with you, thanks.
Grab a pencil and paper and start to make a list of phrases that start with, “I will be open to…” and just keep going until you stop. I was amazed at some of the things that came through me onto my list, and I feel better now because I am also open to learning new things about myself.
is for Now
I’m not gifted at “being in the now” yet, but I work at it enough to know that it can pull me out of panic attacks, worry, unrealistic expectations, and most of all my tendency to try to predict my future.
My ability to predict my future sucks. I could fill countless pages with all the things I thought “today” would be like going all the way back to my childhood when I was assuming that being 49 was like blue hair, support hose, and wrinkles, or my predictions that I would live out West and ride cross country on the back of a motorcycled driven by my husband who just happened to look like the Marlboro Man.
Well, here I am still living in Ohio, happily hanging out with my daughter, working a temporary position at a Data company, writing my heart out, experimenting with my love of paper and paper filigree--not with the Marlboro Man, not a model, not a Rockette, not an actress of stage or screen, not a middle school principal, not an accountant, and not living in Wyoming or Alaska. Yes, each of those were a prediction at one time of what "today" might have been like.
Those were all my fun predictions; my point is that for every fun prediction I have also predicted many horrible things for my future as well. These predictions typically fall into various stories of poverty, isolation, and illness. They are the scary scenarios I play out in my mind when my life gets unpredictable—the common triggers being death, divorce, injury, unemployment, betrayal, etc. and none of these predictions have come true either.
It dawned on me that most of my mind energy was spent inventing these horrible scenarios of my future and clearly I’ve already proven that I am in fact terrible at predicting my future, so I decided I had to learn to pull myself back in and focus on right now instead.
I simply cannot know what tomorrow holds—period—and every tomorrow I’ve ever imagined has been different from what I either expected or planned. Some better some worse, but never like expected. So it doesn’t make sense to me any more to let my mind scare me so much.
I’ve learned to bring myself back to right now by thinking of all those hairs that stand out straight because of static electricity. Each hair is one of my tiny thought pieces, worries, memories, to do list items, fantasies; anywhere my mind happens to go is one of those floating static-filled hairs. I take a deep breath and imagine attracting all those strands back into me wherever I’m standing or sitting. I do this a lot when I’m washing dishes, or before bed, or whenever I start to panic.
I can actually start to feel the energy coming back to me from its crazy worry-journey and I feel stronger and more solid—a bit static electricity-ish but better. Nothing bad is happening to me right now. Right now I’m just sitting here. Right now everything is okay. Right now no one is telling me bad news. Right now I hear birds, not a bill collector. Right now my dogs are sleeping and so is my daughter.
Pull the stands back in and just stay here for a minute because at this moment you’re safe, and here, and fine. Trust me, whatever you’re imagining the worse case is or may be—the reality never matches it, so stop imagining what it could be like and deal with it when it comes.
Right now you’re here reading and that’s just fine.
is for Meditate
Ugh. Oh how I wish I could do it “right.” I know that’s silly because to put rules on something so wonderful as taking a moment to feel still defeats the whole purpose of feeling still. So…stop putting rules on it.
I don’t want to offend any Masters of Meditation here with my technique (if you can call it that) but if you’re anything like me—a beginner and a perfectionist—then the mere fact that you’re “not doing it right” makes you stop all together and walk away (for years possibly) because you would rather not try at all than to fail. There. I said it. That is me in a nutshell.
I have decided that mindset is effing stupid. In celebration of my decision I have once again picked up my practice of sitting still and listening to my breathing. Guess how many days I did it last week…two. Yes, it makes me sad that I didn’t do it every day. The week before I reached three days, and the week before I went back to work I hit six days! So it may look like I’m getting worse but I’m really just figuring out my new schedule.
My goals are 10-20 minute “sits” four days a week for now. I typically do it in the morning during the time before I need to make sure my daughter is up for school, but after I shower and have some coffee. I sit on my bed, lean against my pillow against the wall, eyes usually closed, trying to be straight, cross my legs—sometimes—hands in my lap or on my knees. I take a big breath and let out a huge sigh. This gets me started because my ability to hear that giant sigh reminds me to stop listening to my crazy mind talk. I listen to my breathing as long as I can still hear it before my mind starts talking again which might be 5 seconds or it might be 20. Then when I realize I’m “talking” again I switch over to “saying” In…Out…In…Out…alongside my breathing until that gets boring, and then I try listening to my breathing again. That works for a bit then I’m back to In and Out all over again.
This process goes on until I scream inside and my eyes pop open. I usually laugh and try not to beat myself up about it. Some is always more than none.
Sometimes I try again at night when I’m lying down getting ready for bed. It even puts me to sleep occasionally so I don’t know if I can really count that as meditation, but I’m not following rules anymore right?
Good luck everyone. I hope your moments of sitting quietly can pull your stay pieces all back to center and give you a sturdy start to your day!
is for Love
I entered an essay contest once about “love.” The problem I had was that the contest asked us to write about a time we learned the meaning of love. The more I thought about it the bigger and more confusing the word love became to me.
I was spinning! Which kind of love? Unconditional love, conditional love (I remember learning about this one really well) romantic love, true love, lasting love, platonic love, brotherly love, sisterly love, parental love, love of oneself. This list kept on growing with love as the base but the actual experiences of each love being so very different, and each with their own very different attached lesson.
I couldn’t articulate what I meant into my contest entry, Willie’s Home, so I wrote about trying to teach an aspect of love instead. The essay is HERE if you want to read it. It didn’t win, but it is one of my favorite memories of writing losing essays.
Honest feelings of love are of course wonderful sensations. They are a wonderful place to live. Any aspect of love, any version of love, and any honest moment of sharing love is important. I no longer worry about finding romantic love—I missed that boat. I choose to focus on motherly love, the love I extend friends in need, and my ability to demonstrate love by accepting others and circumstances without judgment.
It seems to me that learning about love is a lifelong activity. I didn’t understand unconditional love or how that truly felt until I was 38 when my daughter was born; having a no strings attached love for another human being blew my mind.
I am still learning about selfless love as I watch other giving so much of themselves expecting nothing in return. To have learned how that feels though, I don’t think I’m there yet.
I don’t have any sisters so I will never learn exactly how that love feels—not in this lifetime anyway—and that’s okay.
I am working on the loving of oneself thing, it has been very hard, but I can honestly say that right now as of today, I still do not know how that love feels. I imagine it to be this awesome wave of love, similar to unconditional, that will just wash over me one day when I least expect it. I am guessing it will be life-changing and will open me up to other kinds of love in the process, but I’m just not there yet and that is also okay.
Love is big enough to keep on teaching me for the rest of time.
is for Kindness
There is only one consistent rule in our house—be kind. Now I break this rule way more than I care to admit, but I am quick to apologize, point out my lack of sensitivity, and try to make it better as soon as I can. To be kind for one day is achievable but it is always the day I choose to focus on kindness that all the irritating crap (i.e. people) confronts me in order to test my resolve.
I think my focus on kindness in general stems from an awkward adolescence that consisted of a lot of insecure moments, a lot of being teased, a lot of not fitting in (and having it pointed out to me just for the enjoyment of others) as well as some all around just mean people doing their best to make me feel small and insignificant by maybe…say...yanking my sweatpants down in front of the boys P.E. class as they ran by.
All of this turned me into the all-around-root-for-the-underdog Queen of Empathy. As a child I watched The Charlie Brown Halloween Special every single year hoping that Charlie Brown would NOT get a rock and wanting to squeeze myself into the TV to be his friend and share my candy. I vowed that I would NEVER pull the football away from him if I ever got a chance to meet him.
The reason my teaching career primarily resided within the middle school years was my need to be a “protector” for anyone feeling awkward, intimidated, insecure, or vulnerable—which pretty much describes the entire early adolescent experience. My underlying need of course to make sure no one was ever treated like I had been.
I encourage empathy from my daughter as well, but I got lucky, she was already wired this way from the start so I can’t really claim that I “taught” her anything about being kind. I point out situations on TV or in real life where we can talk about how alone or sad or embarrassed someone might feel, and what I would do to make them feel better and she will add her own ideas as well. I also encourage her to notice kids at school that look lost or lonely to say a quick “hi” to if she feels comfortable doing that.
Being kind to someone else never implies that we have to be “besties” it implies that I value you enough to extend my best behavior, and hopefully they will return the favor. I’m just hoping that if I remember to be kind, hold my acid tongue, and not feed into anyone’s lack of kindness then my overall area of existence will start to become a better place for me, my daughter, and anyone willing to visit my corner of the world.
I’m hoping that my kind corner of the world will touch all of your kind corners and then we can each breathe a giant sigh of relief.
J is for Joy
Be joyful today! This is your tenth day of your 26 Days to Practice Peace. If you have placed your focus on any of the previous nine words I am hopeful that you found joy or comfort at some point during that day.
Being joyful is something that feels “bouncier” than being happy does—to me. I don’t know why that is. A smiling baby seems to embody joy. My big Newfoundland Mix, Grover, seems joyful when he hops around in the snow like a 80 pound bunny rabbit. Joy seems to have a distinct look and feel to it.
Before I headed back to the working world a few weeks ago I stood at the kitchen door watching my daughter walk across the yard, out the gate, across the street toward her friend’s house, looking back to wave multiple times on her way to school. I felt joy watching her. It was different than just being happy, it was both a knowing and appreciating that these moments would soon be gone and that I had better soak up the feelings of these mornings and make them last. Me standing at that door is something we had done every morning since the day she let me know it was not cool to have her mom walk her to school anymore, but since it was coming to an end I just felt so joyful watching her head off to school knowing I’m her Mom.
“Tears of joy” is also something I cherish. A moment so wonderful that your eyes leak; there is nothing quite like that. Tears of sorrow or shame sting my eyes; they have a distinct burn as they well up in my eyes. They make it too cloudy to see as I typically try to hide my face and walk away. Not tears of joy though, they are light, crystal clear, and almost refreshing.
I am trying to think of a recent moment that I had tears of joy--exercising my imagination—but I am struggling at the moment. The reason is simply because I have had a lot of those painful stinging tears lately. Now you know why I needed to start writing my 26 Days to Practice Peace.
I will focus on joy today. The joy I feel when I see my child after work, the joy I feel when I know I made a difference in someone’s day, the joy I feel when I make someone laugh at work with my goofy comments, and the joy I feel when I watch my daughter from across the room while she is busy being a child.
I wish each of you all the joy in the world today.
is for Imagination
I love it when it is so quiet I can hear the snow falling.
I love it when I see a shooting star.
What tiny moments do you love? Not because you receive their gifts every day, but precisely because you don’t.
These tiny seldom occurring events are the kind of moments you can use to exercise your imagination. I have to close my eyes to hear the snow in my memory, but I can keep them open to see the memory of a shooting star. I think that’s weird. The image of a shooting star floats in my imagination somewhere above this page. It almost seems to be floating in a bubble above my head.
I love the way imagination works.
Imagination can certainly be used to create brand new never before seen things, sounds, stories, solutions, etc. but I like to think that I am more likely to imagine that “great new thing” if I insist on using my imagination often—giving it practice. So I exercise mine by filling my imagination with details from things I do remember, but I don’t worry about accuracy. It might sound like I’m exercising my memory, but it’s more than that. I don’t just remember something—it’s the practice of filling my mind with sounds and pictures that I can really “see” that is helping me improve my imagination. I have practiced hearing my snow falling so much that I am now able to close my eyes and hear it when I’m in a crowded place to help me feel centered and calm.
Think of a moment you remember seeing or hearing. That moment you are imagining belongs only to you, it's a special moment that you were graciously invited to witness and now it is being imagined once again by you. Didn’t that just add a whole new level of “special” to your moment?
Thing are perceived in only one way—your way—and it happens for each of us (which is probably why there are so many misunderstandings.) Your memory, your moment is unique to you—mine is unique to me. Fascinating. I think that makes these moments treasures to behold and definitely worth spending at least sixty seconds with every day exercising your imagination. How about you?
is for Heart
Today I will focus on the center of my chest. That fist sized beating heart that feels as though its purpose is so much more than a pumping system.
Pay close attention to all the feelings in your chest today. Whenever you can place your attention there choose an image that makes you smile. Imagine a rose blossom—any color—opening as in time lapse photography. Imagine blue-green fairy dust falling into a beautiful leaf—can you tell I watch a lot of Tinker Bell movies with my daughter? Or you could imagine two hands gently holding your heart as it glows a beautiful color of your choosing. Whatever color lights up in your imagination is just fine. I’m sure you can think of an image that will redirect your focus to the center of your chest. You're attempting to just notice your heart and pull away from all the mind chatter that distracts you.
The heart is an amazing organ. I have felt the pain of my heart breaking from sadness, despair, and disappointment, but I have also felt my heart swell from the joy of pride, love, or amazement.
Does my physical heart literally swell or break—no—but to seemingly feel those sensations is certainly experience enough to warrant my respect, tenderness, and attention for the day.
My wonderful heart also warns me of my tendency to live in a place of fear. I will feel a nervous fluttering that most folks would consider to be panic. That feeling used to scare the shit out of me, but now I use it as a reminder that there is a distinct possibility that my imagination has run away with me again. My imagination enjoys taking me on “worst case scenario” adventures. Lately when my heart pulls this "warning" I try to pause, breathe, and reconsider the nervous thoughts flying through my head and remember that not one single “worst case” imaginings has ever actually happened as bad as I played it out in my head.
Place focus today on the power of your heart. It's a beautiful messenger of sorrow, warning, reality check, and love.
is for Generosity
Generosity of spirit is where I place my focus today.
It’s easy for me to first associate generosity with financial generosity but because I’m working through some of my own financial setbacks I personally need to focus on as many other types of generosity that I can.
Be generous with your smiles. In the store if I see someone who looks completely sad and defeated and I can make eye contact I will give them a smile with a hint of “been there—done that—got the t-shirt.” If I can pull a hint of relief from their face then my generosity has been received.
Be generous with your time. Spending a few extra moments to really listen can be one of the most generous things I do in a day. I spend my extra moments with anyone needing to share a story with me; sometimes it’s the crazy old dude in the coffee shop telling me how to live my life and sometimes it’s my neighbor with the “guy troubles.” My favorite extra time is with my daughter listening to her invent a story while we run errands or just sitting near her while she does homework.
Be generous with your prayers. I try to send off a positive thought when I’m feeling uneasy, annoyed, or scared. A fire truck blasts by loud and scary and I say “I hope everyone’s okay.” Someone drives around me dangerously cutting through traffic and I say, “I hope you arrive safely.” Whatever, whoever I come across during the day that needs some extra love I simply send off a little prayer. My prayers aren’t a typical prayer like I learned when I was a child, but taking a moment to send a focused thought of pure goodness can’t hurt.
For today give of yourself, your heart, your smile, your time, your ears, instead of your dollars. This form of generosity pays itself back instantaneously. You might get to hear a fascinating story, make a new friend, or quite possibly extend some emotional relief to someone who is in desperate need.
Today say, “I will give whatever I can to whomever I can whenever I can.”